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Thursday, May 28 • 2:15pm - 3:30pm
The Embodied Digital Self

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A panel of three papers:

Images as Data: Cultural Analytics, Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne, and the Relevance of a ‘Science with Names’
Stefka Hristova

In this paper, by extending the methodology of media archaeology to the praxis of Cultural Analytics/Media Visualization I ask how have we compared multitude of diverse images and what can we learn about the narratives that these comparisons allow? I turn to the work of Aby Warburg who attempted to organize close to two thousand images in his Mnemosyne Atlas. In comparing contemporary methods of image data visualization through cultural analytics method of remapping and the turn of the century methodology developed by Warburg under the working title of the “iconology of intervals,” I examine the shifts and continuities that have shaped informational aesthetics as well as data-driven narratives. Furthermore, in drawing parallels between contemporary Cultural Analytics/Media Visualization techniques, and Aby Warburg’s Atlas, I argue that contextual knowledge has always been and should continue to be important both for big visual data visualization and interpretation. More specifically, I take the case study of Warburg’s Panel 45 in order to explore what we can learn through different visualization techniques about the role of color in the representation of violence and the promise of prosperous civil society.

Negotiating Expertise: Technological Mediation in the Quantified Self
Meena Natarajan

A computational turn marks our everyday experience of our bodies. This turn is characterized by individuals appropriating consumer medical technologies to produce their own data about their bodies. A vast array of consumer medical sensors, ranging from iPhone enabled ECG devices to wearable sound sensors that detect the state of their joints, now help interrogate who can demonstrate expertise about the body and how. In this paper, I focus on an instantiation of this phenomenon, the Quantified Self, a growing community of self tracking individuals, a subset of whom voluntarily track signifiers of health.

What kind of speculative narratives do self trackers and medical institutions assign to self tracking practices and consumer biosensing technologies? What kind of relationships do self trackers develop with sensing technologies? What are the complexities of the QS goals of subverting the authority of institutionalized medicine while also adopting its terms and methods? I draw from ethnographic immersion in the Quantified Self community to explore the opportunities and limits of this trajectory of grassroots activism and the constructs of health that they create and sustain. 

Using Bioinformatic Algorithms to Analyze the Politics of Form in Modernist Urdu Poetry
A. Sean Pue

This paper has two aims. First, it shows how the authors, a humanist and two computational biologists, collaborated to adapt graph-based algorithms used in genome assembly and multiple sequence analysis to scan the meter of Urdu poetry. Second, applying these techniques to modernist free-verse poetry of the early 1940s, the paper argues that data-rich analysis of poetic meter offers humanistic insights into the politics of literary form.
The authors found a productive analogy, which reached across their respective disciplines, between the workflow of computational scansion and the central dogma of biology. In this sequential transfer of information, DNA replicates and transcribes into messenger RNA (mRNA), which parses into RNA codons, and finally translates into particular proteins. Computational scansion involves a similar process. The first stage is the replication of the Urdu text into its transliterated form, which shows additional information about the source text, most notably short vowels, required for metrical scansion. Next, in transcription the transliteration converts into metrical components, such as consonants, short vowels, and long vowels. Through parsing, the metrical components are grouped into short and long metrical syllables. Finally, translation renders those grouped components as a particular scansion.

Urdu meter is combinatorially explosive, leading quickly to hundreds or thousands of possibilities. This problem was resolved by adapting graph theory, commonly used in “next generation” sequence analysis and genome assembly, in the transcription, parsing, and translation stages of this workflow.

Urdu poetry can usually be understood by speakers of the closely related, and mutually intelligible South Asian language of Hindi, even while it retains a distinct vocabulary and meter as well as script. Urdu is built primarily on the meters of Persian/Farsi, which took on the prosody of Arabic, thereby participating in a translingual Muslim poetic tradition. In the twentieth century, many Urdu poets were eager to modernize a literature criticized as foreign or too closely associated with the so-called misrule of the erstwhile Mughal Empire. They chose between retaining the treasured and melodious form of the Urdu and Indo-Persian ghazal, or looking away from that form and toward either English models or the meters embraced by Hindi. In the effort of anti-colonial nationalist movements to establish India and Pakistan in 1947, the choice of meter took on a political meaning: writers addressed different publics through the sound of their poetry. To some adherents of the “Two-Nation Theory,” which argued that Indian Muslims were a separate and distinct nation, the āhang (poetic melody) of Indo-Muslim civilization was external to the Indian soundscape. Other writers, including advocates of secular nationalism, insisted that Urdu poetry fell within a shared and distinct “Hindustani” literary culture that embraced both Hindu and Muslim elements.

Addressing the most prominent collections of free verse poetry in this period, this paper argues that meter itself carries meaning, and examines the rhythmic quality of language, which is among the most prized aspects of poetry in the Indian Subcontinent.

avatar for Stefka Hristova

Stefka Hristova

Assistant Profesor, Michigan Technological University

Meena Natarajan

PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley

Designated Tweeters



Kimberly Bain

Post-Baccalaureate, 5CollDH

Thursday May 28, 2015 2:15pm - 3:30pm EDT
Auditorium Kellog Center

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